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Lee v. Smith

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 8, 2019

DONOVON LEE, #MZ7143, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT J. SMITH, CO II, SCI Camp Hill, et al., Defendants.

          CONNER, C.J.

          MEMORANDUM

          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a prisoner civil rights action, which was commenced on October 24, 2018, by the filing of the pro se complaint in this matter, signed and dated by the plaintiff, Donovon Lee, on October 17, 2018.[1](Doc. 1.) At the time of filing, Lee was incarcerated at SCI Fayette, a state correctional facility located in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. His claims, however, concern the conditions of his prior confinement at SCI Camp Hill, a state correctional facility located in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Lee has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this action. (Doc. 11.)

         The matter now comes before the Court on a Rule 37 motion to compel by the pro se plaintiff, which is fully briefed and ripe for disposition. (Doc. 26; see also Doc. 28; Doc. 29; Doc. 32.)

         I. Background

         The plaintiff, Donovon Lee, is a state prisoner, serving a term of imprisonment for sex offenses involving a minor victim. In his complaint, Lee alleges that, on July 3, 2017, while he was incarcerated at SCI Camp Hill, defendants Sergeant J. Smith and Officer T.D. Kline violated Lee's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by failing to intervene and protect him from a rape and assault at the hands of his cellmate, a non-party inmate named Michael Morefield. Lee alleges that, before the assault occurred, Smith explicitly encouraged it by informing Morefield of the nature of Lee's criminal offenses and encouraging him to threaten to assault Lee. The plaintiff further alleges that Kline not only watched Morefield physically assault Lee and failed to intervene to stop the assault, but he also verbally coached Morefield on where to hit Lee as he did so. The plaintiff also alleges that Kline told him to keep his mouth shut and "forget the whole situation" or else Kline would find him and make him "regret snitching," which Lee contends is a violation of his First Amendment petition rights.

         For relief, Lee seeks an unspecified award of damages. He also seeks an injunction directing that the defendants be disciplined by their employer, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, or criminally prosecuted.

         II. Discussion

         By his motion, the plaintiff seeks an order compelling the defendants to produce documents responsive to four Rule 34 requests for the production of documents: (1) the defendants' employment disciplinary records; (2) investigative reports, including PREA investigation #2017-P-844 and police investigation #PA17-7210461; (3) medical reports, including photographic documentation and lab results; and (4) a copy of the transcript of the plaintiffs deposition, taken on July 30, 2019.

         The plaintiff served his document requests on defense counsel in August 2019, [2] and the defendants served their responses to the requests on September 23, 2019. (See Doc. 22; Doc. 28-1; Doc. 32-2; Doc. 32-3.) The defendants raised no objection to requests #2 and #3, indicating that they were producing 155 pages of investigative records responsive to #2 and 15 pages of medical records responsive to #3. They further noted that they possessed no photographs responsive to #3. The defendants objected to request #1 on the grounds that it sought information that was not proportional to the needs of this case and that it sought confidential personnel information which could jeopardize institutional safety and security. They objected to request #4 on the ground that the transcript was in the possession of a third party (the court reporter who transcribed the deposition), who could provide it upon request at the plaintiffs own expense.[3]

         A. Requests #2 and #3

         We start with requests #2 (investigative records) and #3 (medical records) to which the defendants have raised no objection in their discovery responses. In response to the plaintiffs motion, the defendants argue that the matter is moot because the responsive documents have in fact been made available for inspection by the plaintiff.

         In his reply, the plaintiff states that he has not received the promised documents, but rather only a letter from defense counsel advising him that responsive documents were forwarded to his institution for review. The letter itself, attached as an exhibit to both the plaintiffs reply and the defendants' subsequent sur-reply, states in relevant part:

Please note that the documents referenced in the responses are not enclosed. The documents have been forwarded to your institution for review. In order to inspect the documents identified in this response, you must submit a DC-135 Inmate Request to Staff Member form addressed to the Superintendent's Assistant. The Superintendent's Assistant will then arrange a mutually convenient time and place for you to review the responsive discovery. If you have sufficient funds in your inmate account, you may, at your cost, ...

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